“WITHOUT FACES WE ARE FREE.”
Category: Retro, Slasher, Splatter/Gore
Directed by: Arthur Cullipher
Written by: Nathan Erdel
Starring: Shane Beasley, Kelsey Carlisle, Ellie Church
Music: Mike Anderson, Arthur Cullipher, James Nash
Cinematography: Leya Taylor
The 2012 horror film Found was a big hit in the indie horror community, and the lost 70’s film within the film that one of the characters was obsessed with became a focus of interest amongst fans. Everyone was eager to see Headless as a feature length film, so when the special effects supervisor Arthur Cullipher of Found started a kickstarter campaign for the cause it was a huge success. I wasn’t a fan of Found nor was I very curious about the snippets of this film within it, but I caught a screening of it at the Slaughter in Syracuse Underground Film Festival and was pleasantly surprised and entertained by the finished product.
This obscure slasher from 1978 follows a serial killer (Beasley) who targets women and murders and rapes them, well parts of them, in that order. He then sets his sights on innocent roller rink waitress Jess Hardy, killing anyone that gets in his way. Throughout the film, we also get an insight into his abusive childhood via flashbacks.
Cullipher & Co. do an incredible job of retaining that vintage late 70’s feel; that grainy 35mm look, dirt lines on the film, a few erratic cuts here and there, even the copyright says 78′. I especially loved the faux trailer in the beginning. Retro style horror films have been very popular lately, most of which go the way of grindhouse/exploitation type features and generic slashers. Headless goes a bit more outside the box, striving to be one of those oddball video nasties that got buried under the sea of VHS tapes once the home video boom took off in the early 80’s. Those films directed by someone who used the slasher genre as a starting point to film something gruesome and shocking that could avoid the censorship associated with theatrical releases. One of those gems that would be released decades later by a company like Vinegar Syndrome or Synapse. Well I’d say that they succeeded.
The film feels a bit divisive, the story arc focusing on our unnamed killer and the flashbacks of his youth are gritty, bleak and strange. The acting on Beasley’s part, while mostly mute, is quite good. His mother, sister and his younger selfs feature some decent acting as well, at least in the context of this film. Also worth noting is the embodiment of The Killer’s self-conscious; a young boy in a skull mask. While not doing much other than silently influencing him, it’s effective and creepy. Then you have Jess’ storyline that takes the more cheesy route. Plenty of archetypes fill up the roller rink group’s character roster: the sweet and innocent final girl, her deadbeat boyfriend, her sleazy boss Slick Vic, the slutty coworker that sleeps with him. The dialogue is purposely awful and the acting is pretty bad. I’d say one the highlights of the film is the excessive amounts of authentic, handmade gore. Decapitations, post-mortem skull fuckings, pre-mortem knife fuckings, cannibalism, severed limbs, all sorty of bloody fun. The special effects team did an excellent job at creating some awesome splatter scenes. Also the design on the mannequin woman in the trippy, dreamlike sequences is pretty eerie.
Other than the tonal conflict, my main gripe with the film is that it gets a bit repetitive at times and also drags here and there. Even with a runtime under the standard 90 minutes, this film would benefit greatly from some tighter editing. After awhile, this flick feels like a joke that’s run it’s course. A lot of scenes feel like they run a little too long, and the head fucking scenes get to feel overdone after a while. The Killer goes into a strange hallucinatory state when he copulates with heads of his victims, and although this is used as a way to segue into the flashbacks into his childhood the scenes shouldn’t have to play out so long. Once the finale came I thought the film was going to end at probably five different points but it just kept going on. The thing with retro horror films is that any criticism can be defended by the fact that anything poorly done can, for the most part, be attributed to it being an intentional attempt at making the film seem authentic. A lot of those weird gory 70’s underground movies were made my amateur filmmakers who didn’t have a good sense of timing, or edited their own films out of necessity which left the viewer with scenes that awkwardly lingered for too long. So if everything I just complained about was done intentionally, then the crew behind this really does have a good eye for detail.
I found Headless to be an entertaining authentic throwback film, much more convincingly done than most others of its ilk. While a totally different feature, I believe it far surpassed the movie it spawned from. I still think some trimming here and there would do it some good though, but not too much as a short film version of this certainly wouldn’t be satisfying enough. I highly recommend this to those avid horror film collectors searching for the most fucked up, gruesome gems out there.